Start-ups and small companies are crucial to the success of our nation. When they thrive, America thrives. Most of us know this instinctively, and we’ve just kicked off a week that makes it official. During National Small Business Week, awards will be given, high achievers honored, and special events held throughout the country.

All of the honors and accolades are well-deserved. But this year I’d like to ask all Americans to go a step further: let’s make National Small Business Week a week we celebrate in a very personal and meaningful way. Shop small. Shop local. And yes … shop small and local as often as you can.

Why is it so important that we citizens put our money where our mouth is? Consider the numbers. The U.S. Small Business Administration says small businesses create two out of every three net new jobs in the private sector. And over half of all Americans own or work for a small business.

And small businesses have never been more important than they are right now. They are the economic engine that powers communities — and healthy communities are the key to stabilizing families and citizens in the wake of rapid change.

Small businesses have a huge and vital role to play in shoring up America’s struggling communities. They are being called to fill the void created by the loss of “pillar” institutions that used to be locally owned. Now, due to the forces of globalization, many are part of larger conglomerates. Then, the owners of these organizations were committed to keeping local economies vibrant. Their livelihood depended on it. Now, they live elsewhere and no longer have that personal connection to the community.

So entrepreneurs and small business owners have a huge job to do. As citizens we need them to thrive. And they need our support. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Small businesses provide jobs and keep the dollars circulating locally. Their owners have an active and personal interest in the well-being of their community. They live there. Their kids go to school there. They care about what happens. When they generate wealth, these business owners are more likely to turn around and reinvest in the community.

This is why I say that small businesses will save us. They can and will lead the way in creating the thriving communities Americans desperately want and need. When communities are vibrant, there are more high-paying jobs. Young people don’t have to leave to find work. People can afford to shop. Quality of life improves. There’s more money for schools and programs that lift people out of poverty. Everyone wins.

Every community can move toward vibrancy — but only if we join together to make it happen. All real, sustainable change is citizen-powered.

Why not go out this week and buy your kids’ summer clothes from a small boutique, or shop for spring flowers or tomato plants at your local hardware store? You’ll probably find the service and experience to be far richer than what you get online or at big box retailers.

And don’t do it just this week. Do it every week. Make it a habit. When you do business locally, you’re not just making a purchase. You’re making a conscious choice to support your own community. There is no better investment.

Quint Studer is author of “Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America” and founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community’s quality of life and moving Florida’s Escambia and Santa Rosa counties forward. For more information, visit vibrantcommunityblueprint.com and studeri.org.